During one law school summer, Charles Smiley ’97 interned for the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, where, he says, "he fell in love with trial work.”
Then, during his third year, Smiley served as an extern for a federal magistrate. “Seeing how professional and dignified she was, I thought, ‘I wish I could be at a level to do this someday.’ That experience opened me up to the possibility of working as a judge.”
Smiley soon changed his voter status to undeclared, signaling that joining the judiciary wasn’t simply a pipe dream. “It was evidence that becoming a judge someday was more of a plan than I wanted to admit,” he says. “I thought it was important to be neutral.”
After graduating from UC Hastings, Smiley became an Alameda County deputy public defender, a job that offered “immediate feedback on how the justice system is perceived,” he says. “Sometimes clients left feeling they’d had a fair shake, and other times they felt the system wasn’t working, even if they’d won the case. I learned that people expect a lot from the branch.”
As a defense attorney, Smiley studied judging styles. This proved useful when, in 2007, he was appointed a court commissioner, handling traffic, family, civil harassment matters, and small claims. That experience prepared him for his current job, managing felony preliminary hearings and misdemeanor jury trials as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court.
“I love the job,” Smiley says.” “I get to work with talented lawyers on serious issues that affect people’s lives.”
When Smiley is not on the bench, the former songwriter and collegiate rower spends time with his wife and four-year-old daughter. He’s a film and history buff with a particular interest in the history of African American lawyers and judges. President-elect of the Earl Warren Inn of Court, Smiley also speaks at bar associations and nonprofits, and has taught trial advocacy at UC Hastings.
Smiley attributes his achievements in part to “very good professors who taught me a new way of thinking about how decisions get made. I left UC Hastings with the tools I needed to be successful.”
What advice do you have for judicial candidates who want to deepen their ties to the community?
Be involved. As a public defender, I worked on fixing problems. I soon wondered, “How can I get in front of this?” I began volunteering for youth programs. Be connected to the community you are serving.